Bill Wilson didn't start out as an activist or a counselor, but at age 40, he founded an organization that's helped millions of alcoholics regain control of their lives.
An army man and a businessman, Wilson struggled for most of his life with depression. After serving in the military during World War I, he went to Wall Street to work as a stock broker, where he was very successful despite being a heavy drinker. When the market crashed in 1929, Wilson's alcoholism spun out of control. In 1934, a friend who had overcome a drinking problem through principles found in the spiritual group, the Oxford Group, paid him a visit. Wilson didn't stop drinking immediately, but that conversation definitely made an impression. He entered a hospital to "dry out" and there had a religious experience that made him vow to stop drinking [source: Stepping Stones].
However, after leaving the hospital the Wilsons fell on tough financial times and he was desperate to have a drink again. He contacted another alcoholic, a surgeon named Robert Smith who also attended the Oxford Group [source: Stepping Stones]. Their five-hour conversation kept Wilson from taking that drink. Realizing the value of one alcoholic helping another to keep from drinking, the two men searched for others to help.
In 1935, at age 40, Wilson teamed up with Dr. Smith to lay out the tenets of an organization devoted to helping alcoholics recover. But it wasn't until a 1941 Saturday Evening Post article that Alcoholics Anonymous really took off in popularity [source:Nilsson]. Today, Alcoholics Anonymous is a worldwide organization that boasts more than 2 million members [source: Alcoholics Anonymous].